I used to believe I couldn’t reach success without struggling. Does this statement sound familiar?
Well, it’s false.
To struggle will not make you succeed.
Modern society is inclined to believe that struggle leads to secure success, one way or another. What it doesn’t consider is the amount of struggle needed, and when it becomes over-struggling, which means meaningless work.
The success process includes some struggling and fighting. There’s no win without pain. Still, you have to control the agony that comes from it, or it will consume and prevent you from reaching your goals.
Imagine exercising too much in a single day, for example. Your body will soon collapse, and you will be unable to continue the day after. The same thing happens if you work too much in a short time frame: you will need an enormous amount of time to recover.
Many times, I realized how sensitive is the overdoing margin. When I had a dream, and I wanted to realize it, I used to work every day and put every drop of sweat into it. But every dream ended up in failure and I eventually gave up because it became too hard to manage.
After some failures, I understood the problem.
Success isn’t about the struggle you put into work, but the limits you confine your struggle in, so it doesn’t break you.
The Mental Barrier Formula
When you start a job, a new habit, or anything that could make you struggle, consider how much effort is your brain able to bear without giving up.
Most of the time, the beginning of a fresh adventure motivates you and makes you believe you could work day and night to conquer your goals. But the motivation lasts for a short amount of time. Usually, a couple of days or some weeks, then it vanishes.
If you struggle too much, you won’t succeed.
When the motivation drops, you will battle a lot to keep doing what you did in the past. But your brain won’t be under the beneficial influence of motivation anymore, so it will see everything you do as too big to accomplish. This will happen especially if you didn’t consider a low entrance cost to your new job or habit.
Let me explain it better.
When you embark on a fresh adventure, your brain applies a mental barrier to it, since it probably turns upside down some of your habits. This mental barrier (B) is the ratio between the amount of work you put into an activity (W) and your motivation (M).
How does the formula work
To keep doing the work, you need to keep your mental barrier at a neutral value, which means less than or equal to 1. But this is not a simple task to achieve.
When you have top levels of motivation, the amount of work you do is meaningless, since the ratio will always be small, so your mental barrier will be almost nonexistent.
However, when your motivation will fall, the barrier will grow, until it becomes as high as the work you try to put into it. Here, to turn back to a neutral state, your brain will try to nullify the work, so the barrier can drop to 1, or below.
In this scenario, your goal is to keep a low mental barrier, which means stop working or stay motivated. The first option is not a path you want to take if you want to have success, but you could use some tricks to improve your motivation efficiency.
Moderation is the Key to High Motivation
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults have between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate activity each week. This means around 2.5 and 5 hours of exercise every week.
Well, mostly because training too much will not give your muscles enough time to recover. Also, if you exercise more, you will stress them until you will reach physical pain or run into burnout.
This is a simple example of moderation. Still, any practice needs some degree of self-regulation, or it could become painful and even dangerous. The pain that comes from struggling is nothing but additional work for your brain, which will build a mental barrier even bigger than before.
Moderation is the primary principle of keeping your motivation high. If you work too much, your motivation levels will not have time to recover, so they will drop faster. But if you learn to self-control every day, your motivation will keep regenerating, and your mental barrier will remain low.
If you are trying to develop a habit or start a project, adopt the following rules.
Don’t rush into it, take a progressive approach.
When you start something new, progress throughout slight slope steps. Start with a little habit. Then, make it grow, until it becomes easy enough you can perform without too much struggle and succeed.
Also, minor things add up over time, and small habits become fundamentals of a big life, so don’t take the cold turkey path: be gradual instead. Start with one habit, or one simple job, and better it before progressing. This is the only way to not run out of motivation.
Set milestones to keep top levels of motivation.
You should never think about a habit as something you want to keep doing for your entire life. It is important to set milestones, or your brain will get bored before even starting. If you set short-term goals and reach them, you will refill with motivation consistently, without running out of steam.
Also, your goals should be realistic. Always set them lower than the expectations, especially in the beginning when you don’t know how the habit works.
Use a mentor or an accountability system.
A mentor will help you get over the tough moments providing you with guidance when you need it the most. Most of the time, they already met the difficulties you are suffering from, and they could provide you with a pattern to face up to them and approach them easily.
If you don’t find a mentor, you should at least use an accountability system. I used to give some money to my cousin, for example, and have them returned only if I reached my goals.
This made me work better and also keep the motivation high since without motivation my money would have disappeared.
The Motivational Sink
To struggle will not make you succeed. If you want to grow and start new healthy habits, or a project, think about your future as a sink full of water.
When you start, the sink is full, such as you are full of motivation. But starting means opening both the plug and the tap, trying to keep the level of water in the sink stable.
In this scenario, your mental barrier will be a filter you put on the tap. Working too much will be like removing the plug and inserting the filter, so the water will deplete in a short amount of time, and the sink will empty. While working a suitable amount of time means keeping that equilibrium and constantly refilling the sink to maintain stable levels of water.
In the beginning, it will be harder to keep the water in the sink, and you will have to make some adjustments. But after a while, the levels will stabilize.
The same happens with motivation, and with the struggle you put into your work.
To succeed you don’t need to struggle, or at least not too much. Be progressive, and learn to stabilize your levels of motivation, or your brain will build a mental barrier impossible to turn down.
Once the motivation sink empties, it takes a lot of time to build it back up. Learn to regenerate it at its phase, and don’t use it recklessly.
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Article first published on The Ascent.